Jesus's Balancing Act

Humor came naturally to Jesus because his teaching was  a balancing act, a contradiction, a setup with a punch line. He taught that life was temporary but, if we live correctly, we are immortal. He taught that we must treat world of men as unimportant, but that we must treat each person as supremely important. He taught that God was as high above us as the skies, but as close as our own father, both universal and personal. He taught that what we can see is less real than what we cannot see. The setup is our universal suffering and death, but the punchline is our resurrection. Human life is absurd, which is what makes living it glorious.

Jesus saw life from a number seemingly contradictory perspectives.  This fact is also the basis for his humor and the basis for all humor. Humor relies about violating our expectations, forcing us to switch from one frame of reference to another. Jesus lived that in two world, as God and man. His message was that we too lived in too worlds, as the children of God and the children of men. To anyone who knows what people are really life, the idea that they are the children of God is a joke. Jesus knew what people are like so he saw the joke. However, he also knew what we truly are.

In examining Jesus's words, we constantly see him using a dozens of these opposing concepts both in his teaching and his actions. He does this in big obvious ways, contrasting the sky and the earth, the realm of the divine with the realm of men, but he also does it in little plays on words, such as contrasting the word for being lifted up with the word coming down, words that in Greek can both mean being removed from where you are.

He taught people how to make sense of life by seeing that it isn't simply logical. It is divine beyond logic. He uses reason and logic but like Gödel's incompleteness theorems, he used logic to prove that life was not logical, that people need both logic and faith to live a complete life in this world. Without logic, life is chaos and we cannot appreciate the beautiful order and symmetry God created in the world. Without faith, we cannot see the magic and wonder that God put in the world. Logic is our prose, but faith is our poetry.

Jesus's balancing act was very different from the cold logic of those that came before him. Their logic was like a pillar, solid and stable and static. The ideas that Jesus taught are dynamic. They are like the balance of a man walking. By stretching out  one leg of the physical/spiritual paradox, we must eventually fall to the other if we are to make progress. If we try hold our weight equally one both, we also go nowhere.  If we stretch too far,  relying on one leg too much, we do the splits, fall, and stop. It doesn't matter which leg we rely upon, the physical or spiritual, both have their limits. We can only life by shifting our weight from one to the other, letting each carry us only so far.

We can and do use Jesus's idea of balancing opposite to make progress in our lives. Progress is never made by material means alone. One of the big lies of our word today is that the materialism of science has increased our physical wealth. On the contrary, the advances in science are all based upon faith, a leap into the unknown. Modern science is based on a contradiction: our theories are only true to the degree that they are falsifiable. All theories are only true to the degree that they can be tested and falsified. Technology, our ability to make useful thing from our limited knowledge, is the test. Most tests fail. It is only from that constant stream of failures that progress eventually emerge. The constant stream of failures proves that human being are mostly wrong. The small possibility of eventual success comes only through faith: that we were born to succeed if we find the way.

The Paradoxes in Christianity

Though we can use the split between the physical and spiritual as the hallmark of Jesus's teaching, this central paradox gives rise to many others. Among these paradoxes are:

  • Christian charity requires loving those that do not deserve lovable. It requires separating the sin and the sinner, hatting one and loving the other. Charity to the deserving poor is not charity at all. It is justice.  We must both like and care for those who are the least worthy of it.
  • Christian faith requires trusting that which is the hardest to believe.  Believing what we can understand is not faith. It is logic. We need faith to believe what we can never understand. Without this Christian concept of faith, modern science would be impossible. No one understands the quantum world. It was the training of Christianity that allowed modern science to accept that some things cannot be understood to use those ideas without understanding them.
  • Christian hope is the most valuable when the situation is the most hopeless. Without hope, no one could live happily because we all face death.

At its root of these dichotomies is the gap between the skies and the earth, the spiritual and the physical, the supernatural with the natural, the divine and the human.